BURMA: Court refuses to hear journalist’s appeal against long prison sentence


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-062-2010
ISSUES: Administration of justice, Arbitrary arrest & detention, Freedom of expression, Judicial system,

Dear friends, 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to inform you of another raft of charges against a journalist in Burma who was sentenced to a long prison sentence and whose appeal against imprisonment has so far been unsuccessful. Young journalist Ma Hla Hla Win appealed at the end of April against her 27-year imprisonment for doing some video interviews, but the divisional court refused to entertain the appeal. Another accused was given 32 years in the same cases and the details of his conviction also are given below. 


In September 2009 Ma Hla Hla Win (left), 25,  went to Pakokku in upper Burma, where she stayed with a local resident. Her host’s brother Maung Myint Naing helped her to visit some places and people, whom she interviewed on video, reportedly to send later to the Democratic Voice of Burma radio and television service based in Norway. However close to midnight on 10 September a group of police and local officials entered the house and arrested her and Myint Naing. 

The police originally charged the two of them and Myint Naing’s sister with not having declared Hla Hla Win on the local visitors’ register, which is officially required by law in Burma but is typically ignored in practice. The police were able keep the two in custody with that charge, and they then made another charge against the two, regarding the use of an unregistered and illegally imported motorcycle. However Hla Hla Win was not the owner or driver of the motorbike and this second charge should not have been applied to her at all. However in October she and Myint Naing were both given seven years’ imprisonment for that offence, and both they and Myint Naing’s sister were given 15 days for the failure to register as a visitor. 

The local police had directed the investigations and the charges until this point, but when the Special Branch became involved they lodged more politically-styled charges against the accused. The Special Branch claimed that the videotaping was a threat to national security that it and violated a number of laws. At the end of December the two were convicted for a further series of offences. In total Hla Hla Win has received 27 years and Myint Naing, 32. 

The police themselves have acknowledged that the contents of the video footage were not more than interviews with farmers about a broken artesian bore; an interview with a couple of monks; an interview with a child soldier and footage of the signboard of the local National League for Democracy branch, with an interview with two more persons there. None of the content is illegal, and it even corresponds with state policy on agricultural development and the ending of the recruitment of minors to the armed forces. 

Despite various other problems with the cases, such as the lack of representation of the accused in court, an appeal court refused to even hear Hla Hla Win’s petition at the end of April. She must now approach the Supreme Court for reprieve. 

Full details of the case are provided in the sample letter below as usual. 


In March the AHRC also issued an appeal on another DVB correspondent, Ngwe Soe Linn, who was arrested at an Internet shop in June 2009 and charged with having sent illegal video footage abroad (UAC-023-2010). His brother, Ko Aung Htun Myint, is currently serving a three-year sentence on one of the same charges as Ngwe Soe Linn after he was arrested and convicted without evidence for taking video footage of people voting during the 2008 referendum on a new constitution: UAC-040-2009

All urgent appeals on Burma can be accessed by going to the appeals homepage and typing “Burma” or “Myanmar” into the search box at http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/. For further discussion see articles and special reports on the article 2 website: http://www.article2.org/search.php again search for Burma/Myanmar; and, see the 2009 AHRC annual report on Burma (PDF). 

The AHRC Burmese-language blog is updated constantly for Burmese-language readers, and covers the contents of urgent appeal cases, related news, and special analysis pieces. 


Please write to the persons listed below to call for the release of Ma Hla Hla Win and Maung Myint Naing. Please note that for the purposes of the letter Burma is referred to by its official name, Myanmar. 

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Myanmar, freedom of expression, and the independence of judges and lawyers, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and the regional human rights office for Southeast Asia calling for interventions into this case. 

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Dear ___________, 

MYANMAR: Court refuses to hear appeal of young woman against unjust sentence 

Details of accused:
1. Ma Hla Hla Win, 25, resident of Shukhinthar Road, Thaketa Township, Yangon, Myanmar; 27 years’ and 15 days’ imprisonment 
2. Maung Myint Naing, 32, resident of Daung-okyi village, Myaing town, Myanmar; sentenced to 32 years’ and 15 days’ imprisonment 

Investigating officers: 
1. Police Major Win Myint, Special Branch (Pakokku Special Detachment), prosecuting officer (Criminal Case Nos. 34, 35, 36/09) 
2. Deputy Sub-Inspector Htin Paw, chief detective, Pakokku Township Police, prosecuting officer (Criminal Case Nos. 1735, 1763/09) 
3. Deputy Sub-Inspector Myint Khaing, district police vice squad 
4. Deputy Sub-Inspector Than Ko Oo 

Criminal cases (all in Pakokku Township Court): 
1. No. 34/09: Television and Video Law 1996, section 32(a) (operating video business without licence), decided by Township Judge Daw Khin Swe Oo on 30 December 2009; 3 years’ imprisonment 
2. No. 35/09: Electronic Transactions Law 2004, sections 33(a) and 38 (any act detrimental to the security of the state), decided by Township Judge Daw Khin Swe Oo on 30 December 2009; 15 years’ imprisonment 
3. No. 36/09: Immigration (Emergency Provisions) Act 1947, section 13(1) (illegal entry into the union) (Maung Myint Naing only), decided by Township Judge Daw Khin Swe Oo on 30 December 2009; 5 years’ imprisonment 
4. No. 1735/09: Towns Act 1907, section 10(3) (registration of visitors), decided by Deputy Township Judge Daw Phyu Win Nge on 28 September 2009; 15 days’ imprisonment (including Daw Aye Myint, sister of Maung Myint Naing) 
5. No. 1763/09: Control of Imports and Exports (Temporary) Act 1947, section 5(1) (illegal importation), decided by Township Judge Aye Aye Mu (Special Power) on 6 October 2009; 7 years’ imprisonment 
6. Penal Code, section 505(b) (causing fear or alarm to the public); 2 years’ imprisonment 

I deeply regret to hear that another two persons have been sentenced in Myanmar to ridiculously long prison terms over alleged illegal video footage. I particularly regret that an appeal court has refused to hear the petition of one, Ma Hla Hla Win and urge that their cases be heard, with their release from imprisonment secured at the earliest possible date. 

According to the information that I have received, the two persons were charged and convicted because Ma Hla Hla Win allegedly went to Pakokku and, with Maung Myint Naing’s help, conducted video interviews without authorization on 9 and 10 September 2009, which they allegedly intended to send to abroad. The prosecution presented no firm evidence to prove that intention; the police claim that Ma Hla Hla Win received equipment and money from abroad for making the video but gave no information in court to show from whom she received it, when or how. 

What were the contents of these videos that supposedly threatened the security of the state of Myanmar? According to the prosecution, they included footage on water problems faced by local farmers due to a broken artesian bore; an interview with two monks at the Sasana Vibularama (West) Temple, the contents of which were not made known (with neither monks brought as witnesses); an interview with a child soldier; and footage of the signboard of the local National League for Democracy branch along with an interview with two more persons there. 

I find it unbelievable that the mundane contents of these alleged illegal videos and the purported related offences would result in 27 and 32 years’ imprisonment for the two accused, even by the standards of the government of Myanmar. I am aware that the government has for some years staked its reputation on providing agricultural equipment and services for farmers, and would have thought that reports of malfunctioning machinery would be useful for addressing problems, rather than be a threat to national security. 

Likewise, the government has claimed to international organizations that it is determined to bring a stop to the recruitment of children to the army and therefore the interview with the child soldier too could not be illegal. Nor for that matter would the videotaping of an NLD signboard, as at that time at least the party was still a legal entity in Myanmar. 

Even more bizarre is that the Magway Divisional Court to which Hla Hla Win’s appeal went on 29 April 2010 refused to entertain her petition. There are good grounds for the appeal. Apart from the lack of basis for many of the charges under which she and her fellow accused were convicted, neither were represented in any of the cases in the court of first instance by a lawyer. 

Among the charges, the conviction of Hla Hla Win under the Control of Imports and Exports (Temporary) Act is ridiculous because it related to her riding as passenger of an illegally-imported motorcycle that Maung Myint Naing was driving. Although the seven-year punishment handed down to both persons under this section is by any standards grossly excessive, in her case it is also patently unlawful, as the offence applies only to the driver of the vehicle, not the passenger. 

I note that the cases against these two persons come on the back of a number of recent similar cases in which again people have been imprisoned because of supposedly illegal video footage on commonplace topics like shortages of water and electricity supplies. 

Accordingly, I call for the appeal of Ma Hla Hla Win to be heard and for her and her fellow accused to be released at the earliest possible date, as well as for the release of other persons accused over similar so-called offences. 

I also take this opportunity to remind the Government of Myanmar of the need to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to places of detention, in accordance with its globally recognized mandate, without any further delay. 

Finally, I would like to add that at this time that Myanmar is supposedly preparing for elections for a new parliament, I find it absurd that people are unable to enjoy free expression over such simple matters as the supply of water or issues that directly relate to government policies; these issues are of importance to society. Unless they have this freedom and until persons like Hla Hla Win are no longer imprisoned for trivial reasons, any plans to set up a new government through an electoral process will be rightly perceived all around the world as farcical. 

Yours sincerely, 



1. Maj-Gen. (Retd.) Maung Oo 
Minister for Home Affairs 
Ministry of Home Affairs 
Office No. 10 
Tel: +95 67 412 079/ 549 393/ 549 663 
Fax: +95 67 412 439 

2. Lt-Gen. (Retd.) Thein Sein 
Prime Minister 
c/o Ministry of Defence 
Tel: + 95 1 372 681 
Fax: + 95 1 652 624 

3. U Aung Toe 
Chief Justice 
Office of the Supreme Court 
Office No. 24 
Tel: + 95 67 404 080/ 071/ 078/ 067 or + 95 1 372 145 
Fax: + 95 67 404 059 

4. U Aye Maung 
Attorney General 
Office of the Attorney General 
Office No. 25 
Tel: +95 67 404 088/ 090/ 092/ 094/ 097 
Fax: +95 67 404 146/ 106 

5. Brig-Gen. Khin Yi 
Director General 
Myanmar Police Force 
Ministry of Home Affairs 
Office No. 10 
Tel: +95 67 412 079/ 549 393/ 549 663 
Fax: +951 549 663 / 549 208 

Thank you. 

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) (ua@ahrchk.org)